SOTU Address and Senate Committee Hearing Pivotal to Immigration Reform

Domenic Powell • Feb 13, 2013

Follow us this morning on @Imagine2050 and @nativismwatch as we fact-check and comment on the Senate Judiciary Hearing on immigration reform.

Yesterday and today are two of the most important days for the immigration debate this year: yesterday, the president delivered the annual State of the Union; today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss immigration reform, leading up to what will likely be a major push for a long-awaited immigration reform package.

First, the State of the Union: a total of nine sentences out of the president’s speech were devoted to the issue, leaving many wanting for more. The president did not address the situation of same-sex couples who cannot support their spouse’s applications for legal residence, a key policy difference between the president and the bipartisan group drafting a bill this year. At the conclusion of his first term, the president’s record-level deportations, a failed vote on the DREAM Act in 2010, and a “discretionary” policy on deportations, considered by many to be a failure at best and disingenuous at worst, have left him with something to prove—and quickly—to the increasingly important Latino and “New American” voting blocs. While most political analysts do expect something to happen legislatively on the issue this year, touching on the issue in the State of the Union allowed the public to see that the president is recommitting to reforming immigration policy.

Anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) criticized a handful of members of Congress who attended the speech with undocumented immigrants whose stories have been pivotal in shaping the public debate.  Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-Chicago) attended the speech with Gabino Sanchez, whose case was administratively closed after advocacy groups and the representative rallied the failure of prosecutorial discretion in local immigration courts.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from a variety of speakers, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Jose Antonio Vargas, undocumented immigrant and founder of Define American; Steve Case, the founder and CEO of Revolution; Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS); Chris Crane, president of the National ICE Council, and; Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

Mark Krikorian, the executive director of CIS, recently asked whether or not Jose Antonio Vargas would be arrested at the hearing—to what end, Krikorian failed to elaborate. Krikorian has a history of inflammatory or even racist statements, calling Muslims a “vicious people” and claiming that “Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”

Chris Crane is being backed by the nativist NumbersUSA and Immigration Reform Law Institute counsel (and Kansas Secretary of State) Kris Kobach in a lawsuit hoping to end the popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, pitting the union he leads against its larger affiliate, the AFL-CIO. Of course, IRLI is a project of FAIR, and NumbersUSA was started by another one of John Tanton’s organizations, US English.

With two major Tanton Network speakers in the queue this morning, we know what to expect. As immigration reform seems likely this year, it is good to see the anti-immigrant movement on the defensive for a change. Activists, however, ought to remain vigilant as nativist speakers continue to have undue influence on the debate, even at the senatorial level. Follow us at @Imagine2050 and @nativismwatch as we fact-check and comment on the hearing.

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